Hotels are packed, local police on alert, and restaurants are calling in extra staffers. The nation's greatest political show — the historic Democratic slugfest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton — is coming to town.
Their latest target in this vote-by-vote war for every delegate? 16,000 Democratic faithful at the party's state convention in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
But why come to a city of 50,000 people in a state that has awarded its three electoral votes to a Democratic contender only three times in history and only once since 1964? Oh yeah, and they've already voted for Barack Obama in their Super Tuesday caucuses.
"There is no such thing as a pledged delegate," Clinton told reporters when asked about her decision to travel to the state on Thursday.
According to ABC News estimates, Obama won 14 of North Dakota's 21 delegates while Clinton took 5. And all but one of the state's seven superdelegates have already endorsed Obama.
A Fight to the Convention?
The race — at least in North Dakota — appears to be over. But don't tell that to Hillary Clinton.
"The whole point is for delegates, however they are chosen, to really ask themselves who would be the best president and who would be our best nominee against Senator [John] McCain," Clinton said at her Thursday press conference. "And I think that process goes all the way to the convention."
But not everyone in the Clinton camp seems as resolute as the former first lady.
In an interview with the Huffington Post's Sam Stein, Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Penn., who had endorsed Clinton ahead of Pennslyvania's April 22 primary, said flatly, "She has to be ahead in the popular vote to have any chance at all of getting this nomination."
At the moment, Clinton trails Obama by 100,000 votes nationally — and that figure includes the votes of Florida and Michigan, two contested primaries, including one in which Obama's name wasn't on the ballot.
Gov. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., took it a step further, telling CNBC on Thursday that he is "reserving the right" to switch to Obama if the junior Senator's lead in both pledged delegates and the popular vote continues to hold.
Energizing the Base or Arming the Opposition?
The Clintons remain optimistic — arguing both that not all voters have had their say (indeed, 10 contests in eight states and two U.S. territories remain) and that the intense interest in the Democratic race will help, not hurt their party.
"I am sure we will have a united Democratic Party," Clinton told reporters on Thursday in California. "I will do everything possible to make sure we can win and I am confident we will have a Democrat in the White House next year."
Former President Bill Clinton has echoed that refrain, encouraging the press — and some nervous Democrats who worry the protracted fight between Obama and Sen. Clinton will harm both of them and potentially help Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., — to "chill out."
"The voters get to decide," Clinton told "Good Morning America" co-anchor Robin Roberts. "I think we should just celebrate this. If we just chill out here and let all the voters have their say, my gut is it's gonna come out all right."
To be sure, it is energy, not bickering that Democrats in long-forgotten "red" states like North Dakota seem to be feeling.
"Congratulations to the Democrats; and if the state GOP wants to match the energy that the Dems are showing, they'd better be on the phone to John McCain," declared the local paper in the aforementioned editorial.
But before Democrats add North Dakota's three electoral votes to their column, they might consider the historical example of last time two dueling Democrats crossed paths in the Flickertail State.
The Fargo Forum cites a scene from "the tumultuous summer of 1968 when Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey and Sen. Eugene McCarthy, fellow Minnesotans and rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination, both appeared at the World War Memorial Auditorium on the same day in Bismarck for the Democratic-NPL convention."
The result of that heated race?
A riot-ridden Democratic convention that summer in Chicago — prompting Democrats to reform their delegate selection process, taking power from the hands of party elite and trying to give it to rank-and-file Democratic voters.
It is that complicated process which has produced excitement but not a nominee in 2008, bringing both candidates, still in the race, back to places just happy to see fellow Democrats again.